Shepherd and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-157 (20 April 2021)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Nick Shepherd
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an item on 1 News, which reported on support for euthanasia in the lead up to the referendum. It was based on data from the Vote Compass tool, which had been used by more than 200,000 people. The complainant argued it was inaccurate to report that most New Zealanders, or 77% of Kiwis, were supportive of euthanasia, when only 77% of an unrepresentative group of 200,000 were supportive. The Authority found the report was linked to findings from the Vote Compass tool, and its use by 200,000 people, in a clear and transparent way. It found it was legitimate and of interest to the public to extrapolate the data as it did, and the broadcast was unlikely to mislead.
Not Upheld: Accuracy
 During an item on 1 News, on 18 September 2020, host Simon Dallow and reporter Andrew Macfarlane discussed public support for euthanasia in the lead up to the referendum on the End of Life Choice Bill. They referred to data from the Vote Compass tool, which had been used by more than 200,000 people:
Mr Dallow: Most New Zealanders are supportive of euthanasia as the country counts down to polling day. That’s one of the big findings from TVNZ’s Vote Compass tool, which has now been used by more than 200,000 people…
Mr Macfarlane: …On October 17, people will have their say on ACT leader David Seymour’s euthanasia bill, and both sides of the debate are passionate.
Jessica Young: This is a safe bill, and voting yes is the compassionate thing to do.
Dr Sinead Donnelly: As you said, we’re concerned about the risks and we don’t believe that it’s safe.
Mr Macfarlane: Compass asked people if they were supportive of euthanasia.1 77% of Kiwis think patients with terminal illnesses should be allowed to end their own lives, while only 15% disagreed with the idea…2
 Nick Shepherd complained the broadcast breached the accuracy standard:
- ‘[The] report was extremely misleading…In fact, [it] was patently incorrect.’
- ‘At best 77% of those people that completed the relevant question on [the] Vote Compass tool…were supportive of euthanasia.’
- ‘77% of 200,000 is not “Most New Zealanders” and neither is it “77% of Kiwis” both as stated in your report.’
 In his referral to the Authority, Mr Shepherd further argued:
- ‘Viewers will have been led to believe that the statements broadcast were, at least, based on a representative sample of eligible voters and could be relied upon. Unfortunately…the data cited in its report was not gathered by way of an official poll. It is universally accepted that information collected online cannot, for many reasons, be treated as representing the opinions of the wider public.”
- ‘The users were encouraged to use the tool for a specified purpose and TVNZ has taken the information provided and used it for another purpose…TVNZ’s assurances regarding the credibility of the Vote Compass tool are meaningless having regard to the fact that it was using it for a purpose not intended by the developer.’
- ‘TVNZ has made strong factual statements about the opinions of New Zealanders based upon an unrepresentative online sample. The users of the tool may not even have been eligible voters.’
- The tool was not subject to the New Zealand Political Polling Code which covers parliamentary referenda, and states, ‘Reliable polls, rather than informal surveys, require a high degree of rigour’.
- ‘Who knows how many potential voters may have been influenced not to vote on hearing on the main evening News that 77% of Kiwis were in favour of euthanasia!’
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ did not uphold Mr Shepherd’s complaint for the following reasons:
- The data cited in the report was explicitly contextualised as having been gathered through the 1 News Vote Compass tool, which has received a very high level of engagement, and was an appropriate resource to cite.
- The report clearly stated that Vote Compass had been used by ‘more than 200,000 people’.
- Most viewers would have understood that 1 News’ claim that ‘most New Zealanders are supportive of euthanasia’ was a conclusion extrapolated from the Vote Compass data.
 The accuracy standard3 protects the public from being significantly misinformed.4 It states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.
 We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 The Authority’s Election Complaints Fast-Track Process contemplates fast-tracking of complaints about ‘programmes that relate to election or referenda matters that may influence a vote’.5 As this complaint was only referred to us after the 2020 General Election, it was not eligible for fast-tracking and has been dealt with under our standard procedures.
 We have considered the right to freedom of expression, which is our starting point. This includes the broadcaster’s right to offer a range of information and the audience’s right to receive it. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that justifies placing a limit on the right to freedom of expression. For the reasons below, we have not found such harm in this case.
 The audience may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme.
 The accuracy requirement does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact.6 Where statements of fact are at issue, the standard is concerned only with material inaccuracy. Technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material.7
 Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.8 Programmes may be misleading by omission, or as a result of the way dialogue and images have been edited together.9
 The Vote Compass tool, like other forms of polling including official polls, is a blunt instrument in terms of the data it produces, and reporting on such data is a speculative exercise which requires reliance on some assumptions.
 Viewers are familiar with this mode of reporting.10 They understand that polls and surveys are rough tools for gauging public opinion. They are unlikely to interpret projections or extrapolations as definitive.
 The report that most New Zealanders, or 77% of Kiwis, are supportive of euthanasia, was linked to findings from the Vote Compass tool and its use by 200,000 people, in a clear and transparent manner.
 It was legitimate and of interest to the public to extrapolate the data in this way, for reporting purposes. Viewers would have been able to make up their minds about its reliability given the context.
 In these circumstances, the broadcast was not inaccurate and was unlikely to mislead viewers.
 Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under this standard.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
20 April 2021
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Nick Shepherd’s formal complaint – 21 September 2020
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 15 October 2020
3 Mr Shepherd’s referral to the Authority – 5 November 2020
4 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 20 November 2020
1 On-screen text showed the statement put to users for their response: ‘Patients with terminal illnesses should be allowed to end their own lives with medical assistance.’
2 The Vote Compass tool allows users to select ‘neutral’ as a response (which 8% of users appear to have done).
3 Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
5 Broadcasting Standards Authority “Fast track complaints process for election related content” <www.bsa.govt.nz>
6 Guideline 9a
7 Guideline 9b
8 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
9 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
10 Thompson and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2014-049 at 
11 TVNZ “Vote Compass 2020 New Zealand General Election” <votecompass.tvnz.co.nz>